“The Last Dance” didn’t disappoint in Episodes 3 and 4, which focused on on Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Phil Jackson of the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.
If the first two excellent episodes of The Last Dance were meant to lay the groundwork for the rest of its unprecedented look at Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls, Episodes 3 and 4 proved the best is still yet to come in this 10-part docuseries.
Focusing on Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan’s greatest playoff obstacle, the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons, this week’s batch of episodes were heavy on ’80s highlight montages, hilarious Rodman anecdotes and Jordan F-bombs — all of which are great things.
We’ve already covered the best quotes from this week, as well as five new things we learned, In case you missed any of this must-see TV event, or in case you just feel like reliving two hours of an NBA documentary littered with “blink and you missed it” moments, here’s the recap and reactions for Episodes 3 and 4 of The Last Dance.
While the first two episodes focused on Jordan, Scottie Pippen and general manager Jerry Krause, Episode 3 dives right into Rodman’s eccentric persona, immediately setting the tone as The Worm asks, “You’ve got the great Michael Jordan, the great Scottie Pippen, the great Phil Jackson, but if you take me away from this team, do they still win a championship? I don’t think so.”
Unfortunately, the 1997-98 season got off to a bad start, and without Pippen on the court, the Bulls needed more accountability from Rodman. Over a cigar, he reconciled with a livid Jordan after getting kicked out of a game where the Bulls were already shorthanded. From then on, Rodman was “straight as an arrow” and the team started winning again.
The Worm never averaged more than 5.7 points per game in his three seasons in Chicago, but he was an absolute beast on the boards (15.3 per game), a defensive menace and an unstoppable hustle play guy.
“Dennis Rodman was the f**k-up person; he just f**ks everything up,” Gary Payton, experienced f**k-up person himself, explained. “He’s a pest, shutting down whoever he wanted to. It was always a challenge. He was one of them players that changed the game just by his presence.”
While 30 for 30 entries like Bad Boys and Rodman: For Better or Worse have already explored the troubled but ultimately sympathetic man who’d go on to become a five-time NBA champion and the greatest rebounder of all time, The Last Dance hones in on Rodman’s rise in Detroit and how it helped build the Bad Boys into one of the league’s most unlikable dynasties.
“Were they threatening the safety of the league’s top players?” the interviewer asked. “I don’t think they cared…” responded Rod Thorn, former NBA VP of basketball operations.
While the Pistons were running rampant through the league, the Bulls brought in a young, energetic coach in Doug Collins to prepare for their ascent to contender status in the Eastern Conference. Collins used to be so animated on the sidelines he’d be drenched in sweat by the game’s end, and between that and his Jordan-centric offense, he had MJ’s support.
“He understands that the greatest respect you can give a great player is to coach him and coach him hard,” Collins said.
In 1987-88, Jordan won regular-season MVP, was an All-Star, won the Slam Dunk contest and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors, but the following year, not many people gave them a chance of beating the 3-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs — especially when the series went back to Cleveland for the decisive Game 5 after Jordan missed a key free throw late in Chicago’s Game 4 overtime loss.
But as all the great ones call their shots, so too did MJ, telling the three beat writers before Game 5 — one had picked the Cavs in three games, one picked Cavs in four and one picked Cavs in five — that, “We took care of you, we took care of you, and we take care of you today.”
In a back-and-forth affair, the Bulls trailed by one with three seconds left. What happened next was one of the most iconic moments of Jordan’s career that let the world know something special was happening in Chicago:
So what was Jordan saying in that unforgettable moment?
“Go home, motherf**kers, go home!” Michael Wilbon recalls.
“Get the f**k outta here, go fu**kin’ anywhere, but you outta here. Whoever’s not with us, all you f**kers go to hell,” Jordan expands.
It was clear the NBA was invested in the Bulls superstar contending for titles to carry on the torch from Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but there was one problem: The Pistons weren’t ready to bow down to the game’s next ambassador just yet.
“Oh, I hated them,” Jordan described his arch-nemesis. “The hate carries even to this day. They made it personal. They physically beat the s**t out of us.”
The Pistons’ approach was dubbed the “Jordan Rules,” which were designed to ground Air Jordan whenever he got in the paint by any means necessary. If he got into the lane, he was going to take a hit.
“I can compare Michael Jordan to nobody, because for him to survive that and still maintain that greatness, it’s very unparalleled,” Rodman said.
Flash forward to 1993 and assistant Jim Stack has convinced Krause to take a chance on the troubled Rodman, and the gamble immediately paid off. The first meeting didn’t go so great when the Bulls asked Rodman if he wanted to play for them:
Flash forward another five years and Pippen has decided to return to action, realizing he was going to lose his standoff with Bulls management as soon as they started fining him.
Rodman, who was used to being Jordan’s righthand man, went off the deep end with Pippen back in the fold. He decided he needed a vacation to clear his head and asked Jackson and Jordan for one, naming Las Vegas as his preferred destination.
“‘Phil, you let this dude go to vacation, we’re not gonna see him,” Jordan recalls telling his coach. “‘You let him go to Vegas, we’re definitely not gonna see him.’”
Jackson’s idea was to limit the vacation to 48 hours, which Rodman agreed to despite Jordan’s Vegas protests and severe doubts he would return at all.
So where did Rodman go?
“I went to f**kin’ Vegas,” he laughs.
Episode 4 picks up right where Episode 3 left off, with Rodman’s Vegas vacation stretching well beyond the allotted 48 hours. The party footage of Rodman gulping down Kamikaze shots is gold, but nothing beats the mental image of Michael Jordan eventually having to find Rodman and pull him out of bed while Carmen Electra, his girlfriend at the time, hid behind the couch.
To get him back in shape, Phil Jackson had the Bulls do Indian Runs, where the team runs in a line around the gym and whenever the whistle is blown, the guy at the back of the line has to sprint to the front. Jordan had the whole team on the same page that they would jog to make the drill as easy as possible, but when it was Rodman’s turn to run to the front, he took off in a dead sprint.
“It took us four laps to catch up,” Jordan laughs.
The story then shifts to Phil Jackson’s upbringing as he grew accustomed with Native American culture during his early years in Montana, won championships with the New York Knicks as a player, did acid and eventually found himself coaching in an insanely competitive basketball league in Puerto Rico — complete with chicken blood being smeared on opposing teams’ benches and a mayor who actually shot an official in the leg and was only punished by not being allowed to attend his team’s home games the rest of the season.
Eventually Jackson worked his way to a CBA championship with the Patroons before getting the call from Krause to become a Bulls assistant. Doug Collins refused to implement the Triangle offense engineered by assistant Tex Winter, but Jackson was willing to learn more about it, which eventually contributed to Collins’ firing after the 1989 NBA Playoffs.
“It’s gonna be some f**kin’ balls to fire a guy that just took us to the Eastern Conference Finals,” Jordan remembers telling Krause when the GM told him the plan.
It took some time for MJ and the team to warm up to Jackson’s offensive approach, which wasn’t geared toward getting Jordan the ball every time. But the Bulls star eventually embraced it as Pippen became a star and reliable second-in-command kind of guy in his new point forward role.
Unfortunately, as much as the Bulls thought they were ready to finally get over that Pistons hump, in the decisive Game 7, Pippen was suffering from such a nasty migraine that he couldn’t see and had to be taken out of the game.
“When you can’t see, and you’re seeing double, and you wanna vomit, and you gotta play against Dennis Rodman? Tsk,” John Salley sympathized.
The Bulls lost that game, which was devastating for Jordan after losing to Detroit in the playoffs three straight years. Instead of going on vacation, that Chicago team started working out to put on muscle for the physical beating they’d have to endure to get past this team. Jordan put on 15 pounds of muscle and spent that season focusing on getting his teammates prepared for another Pistons battle — by any means necessary.
“I seen a screaming devil,” Horace Grant said, describing Jordan’s brutal but effective brand of leadership. “You make a mistake, he’s gonna scream at you, he’s gonna belittle you. He demands almost perfection. Man, when you see your leader working extremely hard in practice, you feel like, ‘Oh man, if I don’t give it my all, I shouldn’t be here.”
Jordan told Grant to stop whining to the referees after taking shots from the Pistons. Pippen grew up. Jordan wasn’t being pushed around anymore. And in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, the Bulls finally put Detroit in the rearview mirror with a sweep, leading to the infamous moment where the Pistons walked off the court early without shaking hands.
“Straight up bitches. That’s what they walked off like,” Grant said.
Isiah Thomas said the Boston Celtics did the same thing to Detroit when the Pistons finally surpassed them in the East, but MJ wasn’t hearing it.
“Well I know that’s all bulls**t,” Jordan said. “Whatever he says now, you know it wasn’t his true actions then. He’s had time enough to think about it, or the reaction of the public that’s kind of changed his perspective of it. You can show me anything you want, there’s no way you’re gonna convince me he wasn’t an a**hole.”
In any case, the celebration was on (complete with Krause dance moves!) and the Bulls were on to the Finals, where a highly anticipated matchup with Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers awaited.
Despite losing Game 1, the Bulls were confident, since they were nervous, didn’t play well and still almost won. Chicago swept the next four games, with Jordan notably trusting John Paxson to hit open shots on the kick-outs when he was double-teamed. MJ’s emotions pouring out in the locker room after winning a title actually surprised his teammates, showing another side to the ultra-competitive star.
Flash forward to February 1998, and Krause stirred up quite a commotion while the Bulls were on a road trip to take on their biggest threat in the West, the Utah Jazz.
“If Michael chooses to leave because there’s another coach here, then it’s his choice, not ours,” Krause told the media. “We would like to have Michael back. But Michael is going to have to play for someone else. It isn’t going to be Phil.”
The Jazz completed a massive comeback in that game, and with Jordan doubling down on his stance that he’d only play for Phil Jackson, the episode ends on a cliffhanger: “Is this the end of the Bulls as we know them?”
Episodes 5 and 6 of The Last Dance will premiere on ESPN next Sunday.